The Slipstream

A degree of the surreal,

The not-entirely-real,

And the markedly anti-real.

E-Books Are Great, But I Want To Choose My Own Adventure

Posted by

Who hasn’t read a story where they wished they could actually be inside it? See the landscape for yourself, see how the light falls, the air smells, the noise overwhelms you and see exactly how tall that building was that King Kong just scaled. No, the fancy 4D movie theatre at Movie World is not the same; I want to actually be there. It’s not that we don’t trust the author and their powers of description, it’s just we want to be there not just read about it, and ultimately we want to tell our own stories of what it was like.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m over the moon about this leap into e-books and the many ways you can make them unique (The E-book Revolution), but it’s still just the same format, written words. As a generation y-er, I want more, and I’m smart enough to know we have the ability to do it. I’ve been obsessing over the idea for a while, how to create an interactive story that still uses words but is real. Just how could you do it? Sure there are apps that have made a really good attempt such as Wunderlust, where you have to be in a specific type of location, like a park or a train station to unlock the next part of the story. But to me it seems like a half-hearted attempt, because you don’t have to be at a specific train station like Flinders Street, you can be at any train station. As long as there’s a Thomas the Tank Engine near you, you can merrily read away. Being so generic, you cannot note the specific oddities or attractions of a place and as such the reader is not as grounded in the story. They aren’t discovering new things about a place they normally pass-by and I believe a good story should open your eyes to the world.

Besides, I didn’t have a million dollars to spend developing an app. In fact, if I had a million I’d be writing in a villa in Greece right now. So my next question was, how could a normal person do this? Not just moving from place to place following the story of another character, but calling the shots, weighing the options, choosing their own adventure. Hmmmm…

I remember choose your own adventures from when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure I still have a Star Wars one tucked away in a closet somewhere. It was a little too serious for my taste and I always died within the hour. How much fun can you have when you are dead? Last year I came across a choose your own adventure called Down to the Scum Quarter. It is hilarious, and if you die, you die with tears of laughter. That was my kind of story. At about the same time I came across QR codes. A QR code is a 2D barcode, generally square in shape that can be read by barcode apps on smart phones. You may have seen them on various promotional posters, on the side of Pepsi cans or on ads in the subway. When someone scans the barcode with their phone it takes them to a website. They are mainly used by marketers to promote a company. But as a writer, I could see they had so much more creative potential.

That’s when it hit me, while the digital era is allowing us to do so many things with the written word, creating new forms and genres; it also has the capacity to bring an old art form back from the literary dead. This was how Adelaide: Choose Your Own Adventure was born, the world’s first (yes, I Googled it) Choose Your Own Adventure event. Rather than reading the CYOA in printed book form, we placed QR codes around Adelaide city that you could scan with your smart phone. The code links you to the next part of the adventure where you could choose from several options to continue the story. Three separate stories were written by three authors: A comic alien invasion of Victoria Square (Emily Craven), a Sherlock Holmes style mystery in the East End (Henry Nicholls), and a dark thriller where the city facades came to life around you (Ben Mylius). Each new part of the story took place in the location of the QR code. In this way the city was folded into the story, and introduced people to little features of Adelaide that they missed time and again. Suddenly the little door nestled under Naked’s shopfront window, the three story high car-park wall covered in toy cars, and the unicorn in the Post Office faรงade were being noticed and appreciated.

The first QR code poster of the adventure is below (To scan it download a QR app for free from your Apple or Android app stores):

I suppose in a way I have e-books to thank, if I hadn’t been researching them I would never have looked deeper into the concept of interactive storytelling. ย It seems the more you learn about other creative processes, the more ammunition you have to throw off your own shackles of impossibility and create something really interesting. The thing that fascinated me most during this project was discovering a whole new set of writing skills. Creating the multiple endings needed for a Choose Your Own Adventure is exceptionally difficult, for as writers we rarely contemplate two or three endings let alone the sixteen endings I wrote in my Victoria Square Invasion. Now, I can apply this skill to my normal novel writing. So rather than ending with the easiest and obvious path, I can contemplate endings that are vastly different and, in many ways, more satisfying.

The lovely and oh so bright Emily Craven approached me some time ago to ask about the possibility of a mentorship. I get a lot of these requests and as usual, I suggested she send a sample of her work to me first and I agreed to work with her on it, if she could find someone to fund the mentorship. This was not about money since the amounts involved are always very small. It was about controlling access to me and about determination on her part. I didn’t know Emily at all then, but if I had, I would have realised that this would serve as a battlecry.In a short time, Emily had found a means and we began our mentorship. I was tough – always am. Because I care about writing a great deal and I don’t want to work with anyone who does not want to get the absolute best out of themselves. I praise little and criticize a lot. I press on weaknesses and nag. She rose to every challenge I set her like the thoroughbred she is, and she worked really REALLY hard.You can read about her mentorship experience at The Original Fantasy or you can ask her about it by connecting with her on Facebook.

And one day, I have no doubt, you will be able to read her book, Priori – The Power Within.

I am currently almost at the end of the mentorship. Emily is one of the most vivacious and vitally engaged people I have ever met. She is like a box of firecrackers in that you cannot help but be startled and dazzled by her thoughts and ideas. So it was only natural that I should ask her to contribute to this forum – as you will see, she is one of a new breed of writers who looks at new technology as a tool, and is striving to find a way to truly create story, using it. I think you will be as dazzled by her as I was!

13 Responses

  1. Chris Neilsen says:

    Choose your own adventure books always annoyed me, because I wanted to know ALL of the storylines. I’d want to go back and methodically pick the alternates until I had done them all. Whilst this was fine with a 3 page version we’d get handed at school (and even then time consuming and sometime confusing), it was impossible in a novel. Guess I’m just too anal for choose your adventure books….

    Anyway, what I really wanted to post was OHMYGODTHATADELAIDETHINGSOUDSAMAZINGPLEASEDOONEINMELBOURNE!! Which, in slightly slower and less screaming tones is “Oh my God that Adelaide thing sounds amazing, please do one in Melbourne!!”

    It’s an interesting idea being able to see the actual surrounds rather than imagine them. At uni the other day we did a quick exercise of Chinese whispers, where one person was shown a picture and had to describe it to the next person, and so on and so forth. For me, the more interesting part of it was not that the 4 groups had different descriptions at the end and they’d all changed from the beginning (who hasn’t played Chinese whispers before?), but the different interpretations the people around me took from the same description. The girl at the end decided to draw what she saw from the description, and it was absolutely nothing like what I was seeing in my mind, but she was only one person after me and had heard basically the same thing I had. It wasn’t that it was a little different, it was completely and utterly different.

    If anyone wants to try it, the description I heard was “There’s a ball like a sun in the middle and then in each of the four quadrants there’s a hand, and coming from the sun are like sunbeams.”

    I mean, I guess that’s some of the appeal of books, what I see in my head is different to what everyone else sees. It sounds great to try actually seeing what the author wrote for, as in your wide game in Adelaide, but even if it could be deployed for all books I wouldn’t want it to be.

    Also, did anyone else read the above article and alternately think of Inkheart and Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series? ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Emily Craven says:

      I would love to do one in Melbourne Chris, and frankly if anyone can organise funding, it’s on! We are hopefully pulling one together for the Brisbane Writers Festival (fingers crossed) this year.

      And while you were talking about how images/scenes are different in each person’s head, I couldn’t help thinking about how people’s idea of a Choose Your Own Adventure was different. Each of the three stories were completely unlike the others. Mine was a comedy, meant to poke fun at CYOA, another was very serious and quite a dark exploration into how cities overrun the natural world, the other was a Sherlock Holmes style mystery. So not only did we get to explore images, but styles.

  2. Marta says:

    Ha ha. I’m a bit like Chris with the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure thing. I hate leaving pages of a book unread :P. Consequently, I only ever tortured myself with one or two of these so-called ‘Adventures’.

    I love the idea of the QR code story race around Adelaide. I do some orienteering and geocaching and Munzee finding and amateur radio direction finding, all of which work along the same line. Items are hidden which, either through the use of electronic equipment, or GPS locations, or paper maps, you need to run or drive around and find. And like Emily’s Adelaide adventure, participating in these activities gets you very familiar with obscure little nooks and crannies of suburbia and bushland. For example, has anyone tried to scrabble through the vegetation of the Yarra River, somewhere around the vicinity of Burke Road? I have, in search of a hidden electronic transmitter. There are nettles there – and blackberries. Ow.

    And to incorporate a storyline into one of these activities – wow, that would be the ultimate experience. So yeah, please write one for Melbourne :).

    (I realise this post is a complete diversion from the eBook debate. However, see how this discussion allows us to branch out and discuss all manner of other interests?)

    • Emily Craven says:

      The last CYOA I read Marta was a comic one and I love it so much that I just threw the story to the wind and read each paragraph like it’s own mini-story. It was jaw achingly funny and just as satisfying and doing the adventure itself. I have heard of Geocaching and really want to try it when I travel next. I think that you could similarly make CYOA stories something people could do all over the world and am looking into making that happen!

      And this is an eVolution forum! What better way to discuss new emerging digital forms ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Great post Emily!

    I love the idea of alternate endings in eBooks, or sideline stories to explore once the main thread of the story is done. How many times have you reached the end of a book and wanted more. I know a good story often leaves us wanting more, but eBooks offer an opportunity for authors to place some of the material that was taken out of the main story and offer it to those readers who might want a little more… without taking away from the main story.

    • Emily Craven says:

      Exactly Liam. I wouldn’t mind reading a book that was similar to the movie the Butterfly effect. Where you sold several different versions of it and it depended on what ebook you bought as to what ending you would get ๐Ÿ™‚ Then everyone would REALLY get a different experience.

  4. Daniel says:

    I am actually so disappointed that I was not aware of this Choose your Own Adventure Story in Adelaide, that would have been so exciting. I hope that it happens again, so I can get involved.

    But I think you are absolutely right about wanting to actually be inside stories. I always wonder what things actually look like, because even when the descriptions are easy to understand and picture like, my interpretation is going to be different from yours, and it is going to be different to the author’s. And sometimes the writing is not the best, or the action is high, so I get a little confused as to how things are actually happening, and where people are, and how on earth they did that thing that just happened, so actually being inside the book would be awesome.

    And the idea about having to go to a specific location to get the next part of the story is brilliant. I had never heard of Wunderlust, but it sounds like an interesting idea. Of course it would be cooler if you had to go to the exact location to get the next part of the story, but it’s not like we can all fly around the world to read stories. But I am genuinely excited to explore things like this, even though I prefer physical books, this sort of thing is beyond books. I don’t think it trivialises the content, but it adds to a person’s understanding and increases the level of exploration possible. I think the content and the exploration should be separate, so the content can stand alone (in normal circumstances) but if you want you can get further into the world, by exploration. In a way it is similar to Pottermore and the Harry Potter world. You don’t need to go to Pottermore to understand the books, but if you want a further insight Pottermore is the place to go.

    So these extra add-ons to books, are exciting, and lead to a wonderful variety of opportunities for different creative people. But we mustn’t forget that it is the stories that are truly magical.

    • Emily Craven says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more Daniel, story quality is really important, but being digital does not nessisarily decrease the quality.

      In this way we can add an extra level while still allowing the reader to imagine parts of the experience (My story involved aliens invading Victoria Square. Unable to get my hands on aliens or a space ship I had to be content with people putting their imaginations into gear, the best of both worlds I think).

      And please, pop into the Adelaide Choose Your Own Adventure facebook page ( I’m hoping to do a call out later this year for writers for next years adventure.

  5. Maureen says:

    I think this is my favourite post yet! I’ve never thought about the eVolution in this way before and I love the idea! It reminds me of Girl Guide wide games I used to get involved with where you’d get clues and traipse around the neighbourhood completing challenges. I guess the How to Host a Murder games are kind of similar to this too. Your version, Emily, allows readers to live and interact with the story in the same way a wide game does. You become the quest. You become the story. I wouldn’t want that to be every book I read, but it is a very cool and very creative idea.

    The choose your own adventures used to drive me mad because I’d always make the same mistakes over and over and end up in a grusome ending. I’d spend a lot of time using fingers to mark pages! I still read them to death though. I think that the use of iphone QR could also work with puzzle type stories. I used to love the Usbourne puzzle adventures and having one of those as a local setting would be so amazing!

    Come to Sydney and host one. I’ll get all of my friends to come along!

    • Emily Craven says:

      Thanks so much for that Maureen ๐Ÿ™‚ “You become the story”. I like that phrase a lot! The ultimate plan with the choose your own adventures is perhaps to create some sort of map where it’s just as easy to “flip back” to an old code as it is to a previous page in a book to remind yourself where you came from.

      Again would love to do one in Sydney. In fact I’d love to do them all over the world. Hmmm, I can feel an idea coming on!

  6. Deb says:

    Hi Emily, great post. I too love the idea of the CYOA, modern style. It would be a great way of getting young people interested in reading and get them out of the house and into the fresh air. Particularly if the stories were available in book or e-book form as well.

  7. Gemma says:

    I was one of those who took the CYOA tour through Adelaide’s CBD; it was a huge amount of fun! We tracked back and took a couple of different paths through the Sherlock adventure, it was amazing how different the story was, without the need to describe the surroundings. Site-specific works are a lot of fun; they can afford to be a lot more action-based and punchy.

    • Emily Craven says:

      And I remember you had lots of wonderful photos from it too! I completely agree with you on the benefit of site specific writing, but perhaps that is just showing my preference for action and advancement in the stories I read!